Meadville Tribune

January 16, 2014

Hundreds attend oil, gas rules hearing in Meadville

By Keith Gushard
Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — Are Pennsylvania’s oil and gas regulations too stringent or not stringent enough?

Representatives on both sides of the issue as well as those in-between testified Wednesday night in Meadville at a public hearing by Pennsylvania’s Environmental Quality Board on proposed changes to Pennsylvania’s oil and gas regulations. The final form of the regulations are expected to be enacted by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection by 2015.

Thirty-seven people testified at the hearing which attracted more than 200 people to the auditorium at Meadville Area Senior High School.

Bonnie McManus of Adamsville, who represented the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, said the League’s position was the changes didn’t go far enough — particularly when it comes to open pits for temporary storage or impoundment of materials at all well sites.

“Proposed regulations are inadequate to prevent catastrophic risks to public health and the environment,” McManus said. “Even the most sophisticated detection systems, sump pumps, monitoring wells and requirements to fill out forms to monitor leakage cannot prevent irreparable damages from impoundment releases.”

McManus said a possible two-year restoration period after drilling activity is “unacceptable and fails to remove public risk in a timely manner.”

“Land application of any residual waste substance, fill or dredge must be prohibited,” she said. “In most cases, the composition of these wastes and their risks are unknown.”

Joy Ruff of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a trade association for the natural gas industry, said the organization promotes responsible shale gas development.

“Our state is recognized for having some of the nation’s strongest regulations on oil and gas development,” Ruff said. “We do not need onerous rules, but rather we must continue to invest in a highly-trained and competent local workforce.”

Ruff said the organization is concerned some of the proposed regulation changes would “provide little to no additional benefit for our natural environment and will weaken Pennsylvania’s ability to sustain shale development to benefit our residents.”

Ruff said the coalition believes requiring the oil and gas industry to upgrade private water supplies near a site beyond what they were prior to drilling activity was unreasonable.

“Such a double-standard, applying only to the oil and gas industry, is unjust and punitive,” Ruff said.

Mark Cline, a fourth-generation oil well driller from the Bradford area, said conventional oil and gas wells shouldn’t be regulated the same as the unconventional wells.

Cline said small, independent drillers like his company are environmentally conscious.

“Energy can be produced in an environmentally safe way,” Cline said. “We are proud oil and gas people, but we are also proud to be environmentalists. We try our best every day to protect the earth and still do our job.”

Luigi DeFrancesco of Richmond Township said while he supported Gov. Tom Corbett’s push toward making Pennsylvania more energy independent and economically prosperous, DeFrancesco also had concerns for health and safety.

DeFrancesco asked that all structures associated with a well be 300 feet or more away from a road; that high pressure compression units used to move gas into or along pipelines be underground; that more line valves be required to better control pipeline leaks or pipeline damage; and that well casing standards be improved.

Need for changes

The proposed changes to Pennsylvania’s oil and gas regulations have come about as part of Act 13, the 2012 Oil and Gas Act, signed by Gov. Tom Corbett. The act has revised the state’s oil and gas laws to address unconventional well development which includes natural gas extracted from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations. The act also directed the Environmental Quality Board to adopt new rules for oil and gas surface activities.

Proposed rule changes include:

- Inspection and testing of the integrity of on-site waste storage pits.

- Having secondary containment for permanent storage tanks on well sites.

- Having additional reporting and record keeping requirements.

Scott Perry, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s deputy secretary for oil and gas management, said all public comment from Wednesday’s hearing and Environmental Quality Board hearings around the state on the proposed changes will be reviewed by DEP. Then DEP will draft responses to the comments and make revisions to proposed rule changes. Additional hearings may be held by DEP, he said.

The Environmental Quality Board then considers and votes whether to approve the final regulations, he said.

Perry said he expects the final action on the proposed oil and gas changes to occur in the second or third quarter of 2015.

Submit comments

Public comment on proposed changes to Pennsylvania’s regulations on oil and gas surface activities will be accepted online, via mail and email by the Environmental Quality Board until Feb. 12. To view the proposed regulation changes, visit dep.state.pa.us and click the “Proposed Oil and Gas Regulations” button.

Comments and a one-page summary may be submitted by accessing the board’s Online Public Comment System at ahs.dep.pa.gov/RegComments.

Written comments and summaries should be mailed to Environmental Quality Board, P.O. Box 8477, Harrisburg, Pa. 17105-8477. The summaries and a formal comment and response document will be distributed to the EQB and available publicly prior to the meeting when the final rulemaking will be considered.

Comments may also be submitted via email to RegComments@pa.gov. If an acknowledgment of comments submitted online or by email is not received by the sender within two business days, the comments should be re-sent to the EQB to ensure receipt.